POV: In any documentary, the most important (and oftentimes difficult) element is gaining the trust of the participants in order to get them to share their experiences, thoughts and feelings with the camera. This is never an easy thing, but in particular not easy when you are dealing with Native American subjects when you yourself are a non-Native American director. Can you talk about the challenges this presented to you as a filmmaker and how you overcame them? This must have been especially challenging considering the short timeline that you had to work with on Boomtown.
Bryan Gunnar Cole: I did very little pre-production before embarking on Boomtown. We shot over two summers for a total of about 10 weeks. We gathered about 80 hours of digital video and about 18,000 feet of film. We shot everything from fireworks to ceremonies. So, we were around the reservation for concentrated periods. Since it is a small community, there was definitely resistance to our presence. Much was due to the mis-representation by the media native people have endured — and still endure. Then, there is the inherent distrust caused by prejudice.
However, people want to tell their stories. So, if you can do things that make people feel comfortable in speaking to you, then you establish a relationship. I tried to be honest with everyone. If they didn’t want us around their stand, or didn’t want to be on camera, I respected that. I tried to be very transparent about who I was, what I was doing, and why I was doing it. I gave people the choice whether or not we were able to shoot. I think that was the key. I was reluctant to just bring out the camera and start shooting — especially in group situations. But you also have a job to do.
So it is always a little bit of a dance. Because our shooting schedule was so tight, I had to do a lot of dancing very quickly. I also spent a lot of time at the Tribal Center, at Tribal Council meetings, and just hanging out. People get to know you and the more open you are, the more they feel comfortable. And, the more you get to know them, the more you feel comfortable with what they can contribute. For me, I considered myself and the crew guests on the reservation. When you are a guest in someone’s home, you act differently. I think that respect translated into good relationships and ease with those that believed in what we were trying to accomplish.